How many times will we have to see our children and fellow citizens murdered before we wake up, take responsibility, and face reality? These events stir up a flurry of discussions—about gun control, mental illness, and law enforcement. Unfortunately, the talk too often focuses on the symptoms of the problem, but never gets to the heart of the matter, the deeper virulence in our society of which these murders are the symptom. Most of us respond to these mass killings with shock, tears, and appropriate memorials. Then we seem to slip back into the denial of our everyday busyness as fast as we can.
When will we begin addressing the core of what is occurring in our culture? When will we be willing to see these heinous acts of violence and terror, racially motivated or otherwise, as not just isolated events? How can we begin understanding the profound reality that is challenging us? The first step in taking responsibility for changing our lives and our culture is to acknowledge how a mass murderer is a product of a society that we actively create every day and to see how this is a symptom of the destructive way we are living. To take any effective action, we must come to understand how we ourselves and our culture are creating these murderers.
In the early 1960s, the psychoanalyst and social commentator Eric Fromm broached this subject. In The Heart of Man, Fromm explained that this kind of violence results from feelings of helplessness and impotence that are so strong that they cause a person to attempt to transcend his or her negative state of frustration, neglect, and alienation through violence. The ultimate act of malignant violence is to kill others and/or oneself. It is a kind of violence that attempts to control life by destroying it. A person caught in this kind of alienation is paranoid, frequently hoards weapons, and attempts to build up feelings of power and destructiveness. Fromm thought that modern culture generates feelings of aggression, competitiveness, and scarcity in the workplace, schools, sports, and even in families. Because of the pervasiveness of these negative emotions, such feelings dominate our cultural and personal mentality, resulting in our feelings of anxiety, alienation, and disengagement from ourselves and other people.
In our book Into the Heart of the Feminine: An Archetypal Journey to Renew Strength, Love, and Creativity, my wife and I describe the source of our culture’s alienation and destructiveness as the repression of two great feminine principles—the heart and soul. When the aspects of the feminine principle are repressed into our unconscious, as they have been in our patriarchal culture, they become part of our collective shadow and this shadow projects itself as a longing, or even a demand, for power. Repressing these values creates an atmosphere for the psychological complex called the Death Mother. When the values of heart and soul are lost, they are replaced by a living atmosphere that is cold, aggressive, violent, and alienating. As Fromm pointed out, these are the conditions that cause emotionally vulnerable people to respond to their own pain by committing acts of violence and terror.
The first step to effectively responding to mass murderers is to acknowledge that we all have a hand in creating a culture that seems to be producing them at an alarming rate. To face this issue, we must revitalize and live by the values of our own hearts and souls before any of our collective responses are going to be effective. We must go beyond gender values and politics and seek our wholeness by exploring how to heal the wound to the feminine principle, the values of the heart and soul in our lives, in order to rekindle our own voices and change our fate. Our purpose is to take the journey into healing the feminine, healing ourselves, healing women and men alike, and healing our culture to transform the core of how we experience life. Then we would have to commit ourselves to learning how to care for the “least among us” – who generally are the living symptoms of the results of our disengagement from the values of our hearts and souls.
Imagine creating a society that prioritized caring about the people in it. Imagine good health care for everyone, good pre- and post-natal care for mothers, and compassionate mental health care. Imagine schools and workplaces that support and respect individual dignity. Imagine schools that are not founded on the disordered emphasis in our society on achievement and competitiveness. It may be time to stop imagining these things and to start building a society that isn’t creating its own destructive dark side.
Common sense tells us we are going to have to respond to these issues collectively as well as personally. In other words, we must also act through our various levels of government. Our reality is that we live in an extraordinarily complex economic, political, and social world. The days of small government and minimal government are long past. We need big government and effective government. In addition we need to ensure our government is “for the people.” And, as the people, we must be willing to make the sacrifices, pay the taxes, and be engaged enough to insist our government is “for the people.”
We might like to think things have to change for the better. But they don’t. Things can get worse. The infection of destructiveness has been spreading all around us. Treating it will not be easy. It will require a major step forward in our personal and collective healing and consciousness. But the destructiveness in our society will continue until we take responsibility for our reality and commit to creating a better future.
Articles by Drs. Bud and Massimilla Harris